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Arkansas Residents Lose Struggle to Keep “Treated” Fracking Wastewater Out of Streams

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Arkansas residents have lost their case to protect public waterways from legal dumping of “treated” fracking wastewater.  Earlier this year, an administrative law judge ruled in favor of Southeastern Energy Corporation or SEECO, owned by Southwestern Energy. SEECO sought its permits in cooperation with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and now has permission to build an industrial wastewater treatment center in the rural community of Bee Branch, north of Little Rock.

This area of Arkansas is a center for natural gas fracturing of the Fayetteville Shale deposits.  Fracking uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, adding a cocktail of chemicals and even stirring up naturally occurring radioactive elements underground.  The facility offers some hope of being able to recycle and reuse treated water in industry.  It’s unclear how much would be reused and how much would be legally deposited, after processing, into the waterways.

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We told you last year about the residents who joined together to create local group Save Greers Ferry Lake.  They were vocal at hearings opposing the SEECO water discharge permits; yet they were largely ignored, with most of their arguments being dismissed on technicalities.  Resident group Arkansas Fracking has also expressed concern about the discharge facility.

“We have ongoing concerns about the water quality,” responded Greers Ferry Lake community leader Leonard Uecker.  He and others fear this judge’s ruling means the first of many such facilities allowed to permanently jeopardize their waterways.  Citizens unsuccessfully tried to argue that a wastewater reuse facility would have no reason to need a discharge permit.

Industry argues that any wastewater would first be treated with “reverse osmosis” and other methods so it would be potable before discharge into Linn Creek.  This Creek is a tributary to the North Fork of Cadron Creek.  Although Cadron Creek is a designated Extraordinary Resource Water, meaning some residents may eventually depend on it for their drinking water, the judge ruled that current law doesn’t prevent industry from putting “wastewater discharge” into it.  Permit applicants are given the benefit of the doubt that any discharge will not violate water quality standards.  Whether water quality standards are current enough to meet the new challenges of the fracking industry is another matter altogether.

Here’s a look at public documents currently on file about the Bee Branch facility with the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.  Once you reach this public documents page, click on the folder for “Closed Permit Dockets 2006-2013” then see the top folder for “SEECO Inc. Bee Branch.”

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